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Apr 18, 2015 at 5.20pm UK at Wembley
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Preview: Arsenal vs. Reading

Sports Mole previews the FA Cup semi-final between holders Arsenal and Championship side Reading, who have never previously reached the final of the competition.

Holders Arsenal continue their so-far dominant defence of the FA Cup on Saturday when they meet Reading, the lowest-ranked team in the semi-finals.

At the same Wembley venue where the Gunners ended their nine-year silverware drought last season, Arsene Wenger's men are expected to take a step closer to making it two trophies in as many seasons.


Arsenal's Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez celebrates with teammates after scoring their third goal during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium in London on April 4, 2015© Getty Images

The Londoners have been unstoppable ever since shaking off the damaging and highly-criticised Champions League defeat to AS Monaco at the end of February.

Last weekend's 1-0 victory at Burnley was their eighth successive win in all competitions and proved that they are capable of grinding out results as well as blowing teams away.

It was also the eighth time in a row that they had won in the Premier League – making them the first side to achieve such a feat this season – although leaders Chelsea remain seven points clear with a game in hand.

A Manchester United victory at Stamford Bridge on Saturday would at least make the title race less of a foregone conclusion ahead of Arsenal's meeting with the Blues next weekend.

Regardless, the Gunners' best chance of a trophy this season remains in a competition that they will have won a joint-best 12 times should they retain it in May.

Before that, they must equal United's record of 18 appearances in a final. Reading present the third Championship opponent of a run to the last four in which only the Red Devils presented a genuine test in the quarter-finals.

Recent form (all competitions): WWWWWW


Garath McCleary of Reading celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the FA Cup Quarter Final Replay match between Reading and Bradford City at Madejski Stadium on March 16, 2015 © Getty Images

Progressing to the FA Cup semi-finals represents the undoubted high of a season which has otherwise been a disappointment for many Reading supporters.

Nigel Adkins was sacked in December, for a man with Premier League experience as a player, manager and number two to some of England's best bosses.

However, Steve Clarke has done little to encourage Royals fans that he is the man to take them back to the top flight. Their current position of 18th in the table is two places lower than when Adkins was axed.

Eight points from safety with four games of the season left to play, Reading are not yet mathematically sure of their Championship status, but the cushion is big enough to allow Clarke to focus all of the squad's energy on reaching a first FA Cup final.

The Berkshire Blues have only previously appeared in the last four in 1927. They lost 3-0 to Cardiff City and the Welsh outfit beat Arsenal to win the trophy.

Recent form suggests that the Gunners will again make the final at Reading's expense. The Royals are winless in five matches since beating Bradford City in their quarter-final replay and lost 1-0 at home to Bournemouth on Tuesday.

Recent form (all competitions): WLDDDL

Team News

Matchwinning goal scorer Danny Welbeck of Arsenal applauds the travelling fans following their team's 2-1 victory during the FA Cup Quarter Final match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on March 9, 2015© Getty Images
Matchwinning goal scorer Danny Welbeck of Arsenal applauds the travelling fans following their team's 2-1 victory during the FA Cup Quarter Final match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on March 9, 2015© Getty Images

Jack Wilshere had targeted this match as the date to make his comeback from a five-month layoff, but the England midfielder is not thought to be in contention to start.

Both he and Mathieu Debuchy may make the travelling squad, but Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are unavailable to Wenger. Laurent Koscielny has now fully overcome a muscle strain and will play in defence.

Arsenal's changes are most likely to come in the back five, with full-backs Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal being rotated for Calum Chambers and Kieran Gibbs. Wojciech Szczesny should inherit the gloves from number one David Ospina.

Wenger may reward quarter-final match-winner Danny Welbeck with a start on the ground that he has performed so well for England. Santi Cazorla is the most likely to make way, with Aaron Ramsey dropping into a deeper midfield position.

Reading are without cup-tied defender Nathan Ake. Another Chelsea loanee Nathaniel Chalobah is also a major doubt, but physical Russian international Pavel Pogrebnyak is expected to be fit to lead the line.

Jordan Obita may be asked to fill in at left-back, with Oliver Norwood recalled in the centre of the park after a midweek rest. Yakubu, who missed Everton's 2009 Wembley appearance with injury, will be on the bench.

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Coquelin, Ramsey; Welbeck, Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud

Reading possible starting lineup:
Federici; Gunter, Hector, Pearce, Obita; McCleary; Norwood, Karacan, Robson-Kanu; Cox, Pogrebnyak

Head To Head

Arsenal have won all 12 competitive meetings between the sides – the most famous of which was arguably a remarkable 12-goal League Cup tie in 2012.

That encounter is reflective of how goal-friendly this fixture usually is. There have been 24 in their last three meetings – 16 scored by the Gunners.

Sports Mole Logo

We say: Arsenal 3-1 Reading

History, the form book and FA Cup pedigree; everything is in Arsenal's favour heading into this match. A Reading victory would be a grand upset in this season of giant-killings, but does not look likely with the Gunners red hot right now.

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Martin Skrtel of Liverpool heads the equalising goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on December 21, 2014
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